The co-founders of Devon-based clothing keepsake business LoveKeepCreate have experienced many challenges throughout their careers, but no amount of preparation could have calmed Rachel Day and Merry Whitaker’s nerves before walking out to pitch in front of the infamous investors on BBC’s Dragons’ Den.
The entrepreneurial pair appeared on the first episode of the hit television show’s new UK series on New Years’ Day, and successfully walked away with a £50,000 investment from their favourite fire breather Deborah Meaden, in return for ten per cent of their business.
“It’s as nerve wracking as it looks,” Whitaker said of her experience standing in front of a row of the country’s most distinguished business moguls, pitching her venture which she knew would also be on show to millions of viewers.
Talking exclusively with Business Advice, Whitaker added: “It’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Both Rachel and I have been long-term fans of Dragons’ Den. We’ve always wondered why most business owners seem so underprepared when they do their pitch, but when you do it for real you understand why people get flustered. It’s terrifying!”
Whitaker and Day met during army officer training at Sandhurst, becoming good friends in the process. The duo became business partners in 2013 after coincidentally moving to South Devon, and both claim that their former roles in the army gave them the key attribute for successfully walking out of the Dragons’ Den with investment – preparedness.
“We put in hours and hours of preparation before the day of filming and it paid off. I think we both understood the importance of knowing our business’ numbers and being able to answer any question the Dragons might throw at us. We wanted to give a good account of ourselves, and were terrified of being shown up. We didn’t want to be humiliated.”
By launching LoveKeepCreate, Whitaker and Day have looked to address an issue common to many people – how to transform special, sentimental pieces of clothing that you can’t bear to throw away but which invariably wind up collecting dust in the attic.
The business model is simple. People find their most precious pieces of clothing – a wedding dress, old uniform, baby clothes, or their grandfather’s favourite sweater, for instance – and choose a type of memento they’d like it to become, like a quilt, blanket or even a cuddly toy.
Once they’re happy with their choice, customers can then send their special clothing to the small team of designers and seamstresses at LoveKeepCreate’s warehouse in Plymouth for them to be returned, transformed, into a longer-lasting keepsake.
“People develop strong emotional attachments to items of clothing, and all too often those items end of sitting in boxes, hidden away in storage,” Whitaker told Business Advice. “We try to turn those items into new pieces for both adults and children to cuddle with, sleep under or wear, while reminding them of special times and fond memories.”
Their evocative idea seemed to warm hearts in the typically ice-cold Dragons’ Den. A total of three Dragons ended up offering Whitaker and Day investment in return for a stake in LoveKeepCreate, including Sarah Willingham and Nick Jenkins, but it was Deborah Meaden the co-founders wanted on board from the outset.
“We had our eye on her before went on the show,” Whitaker admitted. “She’s been involved with startups similar to ours in the past, and we understood that she likes to get really involved with the businesses she invests in.”
Their hunch about opting for Deborah Meaden has so far paid off. Since filming, Whitaker and Day have spent time refocusing, looking at the best ways to build capacity and develop a sustainable business model with their investment, with their new investor also on-hand to provide insight and guidance.
“With investment from Deborah Meaden, we’ll be able to get where we want to be quicker. It won’t change our business outlook as we’ve always been determined to make LoveKeepCreate a success, but she has also encouraged us to explore wider ideas for the business, which we may not have dreamt up on our own.”
The success of LoveKeepCreate has hinged on the quality of the final products from the get-go, as customers only ever have one item of clothing that’s special enough to send in. The seamstresses cannot get it wrong – their creations must be right first time, every time.
This focus on the quality of their end product is perhaps what made Whitaker and Day’s business a smash hit on Dragons’ Den, and Whitaker’s advice for other entrepreneurs looking to appear on the show would be to let their product do the talking.
“Your product will prove to the Dragons whether your credible or not,” she explained. “You might be able to talk a good game, but if your product isn’t quite ready and you haven’t done your homework, they’ll spot you from a mile away.”
For Whitaker and Day, their Dragons’ Den success is the icing on the cake for what’s been a hectic, but enjoyable first few years as business partners. The pair plan to capitalise on the jump in order numbers they’re now expecting as a result of appearing on the show, providing the perfect platform to take LoveKeepCreate to the next stage of growth.
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